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First of the Last Chances

First of the Last Chances

by Sophie Hannah

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Carcanet Press, Limited
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5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.21(d)

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First of the Last Chances

By Sophie Hannah

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2003 Sophie Hannah
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84777-873-4


    Long for This World

    I settle for less than snow,
    try to go gracefully as seasons go

    which will regain their ground –
    ditch, hill and field – when a new year comes

    Now I know everything:
    how winter leaves without resenting spring,

    lives in a safe time frame,
    gives up so much but knows he can reclaim

    all titles that are his,
    fall out for months and still be what he is.

    I settle for less than snow:
    high only once, then no way up from low,

    then to be swept from drives.
    Ten words I throw into your changing lives

    fly like ten snowballs hurled:
    I hope to be, and will, long for this world.

    You Won't Find a Bath in Leeds

    From the River Cam and the A14
    To the Aire and the tall M1,
    We left the place where home had been,
    Still wondering what we'd done,
    And we went to Yorkshire, undeterred
    By the hearts we'd left down south
    And we couldn't believe the words we heard
    From the lettings agent's mouth.

    He showed us a flat near an abbatoir,
    Then one where a man had died,
    Then one with nowhere to park our car
    Then one with no bath inside.
    With the undertone of cheering
    Of a person who impedes,
    He looked straight at us, sneering,
    'You won't find a bath in Leeds.'

    'We have come to Leeds from Cambridge.
    We have heard that Leeds is nice.
    A bath is seen in Cambridge
    As an integral device,
    So don't tell me that a shower
    Is sufficient to meet my needs,'
    I said. I received a glower
    And, 'You won't find a bath in Leeds.'

    He fingered a fraying curtain
    And I said, 'You can't be sure.
    Some things in life are uncertain
    And that's what hope is for.
    One day I might meet Robert Redford
    At Bristol Temple Meads.
    I've found baths in Bracknell and Bedford
    And I might find a bath in Leeds.'

    He replied with a refutation
    Which served to increase our pain
    But we didn't head for the station
    Or run for a rescue train,
    Though we felt like trampled flowers
    Who'd been set upon by weeds.
    We told him to stuff his showers
    And we would find a bath in Leeds.

    Some people are snide and scathing
    And they try to undermine
    Your favourite form of bathing
    Or the way you write a line.
    At night, while you're busy praying
    That your every plan succeeds,
    There are killjoys somewhere saying,
    'You won't find a bath in Leeds.'

    A better definition
    Might be reading all of Proust,
    But the concept of ambition
    Has been radically reduced.
    While the London wits are burning
    Their cash in the Groucho Club,
    In Yorkshire we're simply yearning
    To locate an enamel tub.

    I win, Mr Bath Bad Tiding.
    I have not one bath but two.
    En-suite in the sweet West Riding
    And no bloody thanks to you.
    I may never run fast, or tower
    Over Wimbledon's top seeds
    Or hit sixes like David Gower
    But I have found a bath in Leeds.

    Out of This World

    Cannot remember grass between my toes
    or how it feels when feet and tarmac touch.
    Cannot recall my life before I rose
    and I have had to rise above so much

    that first I hit the roof-rack of the car,
    then my ascent bent back a lamp post's head.
    I have, without exception and so far,
    risen above a tower of what's been said,

    above a mountain range of what's been done
    to people, books and cities that I love.
    I'll risk head-on collision with the sun
    if I have one more thing to rise above.

    What if the risen suffocate in space?
    You send us up, not knowing where we'll go.
    Would it be such a terrible disgrace
    if just this once, I were to sink below

    the quilted warmth of your intended slur,
    your next offence, soft as a feather bed?
    I'd prove more difficult to disinter
    than knobbly tree roots or the tenured dead

    and after having done my stint in blue
    and subsequent to equal time in green
    it will not matter if I dropped or flew
    out of this world. Out of this world, I mean.


    I came this little seaside town
    And went a pub they call The Crown
    Where straight away I happened see
    A man who seemed quite partial me.
    I proved susceptible his charms
    And fell right in his open arms.
    From time time, every now and then,
    I hope meet up with him again.

    Six of One

    I put it to my indecisive friend:
    we step up our surveillance of the shops.
    He shakes his head and says he'd like to spend
    some time in jail, one year or two years, tops,
    to ascertain which he prefers, the robbers or the cops.

    He sighs and mentions double-sided coins.
    He knows full well that his reaction peeves
    his colleagues, but he argues if he joins
    a bad crowd for a while, then when he leaves
    he'll know for sure he likes policemen slightly more than

    I say he couldn't stand two years inside.
    True, he replies, but think of my release.
    I can't confirm what's right until I've tried
    what's wrong.
He tells me I'm the one he'll fleece.
    I grin. He might like confrontation rather more than peace.

    Gently, I tell him not to be a fool.
    Why not? he says. He tried the bottom set
    before the top at comprehensive school.
    I say Remember. ... No. He might forget.
    He's not convinced that credit suits him any more than

    Listen, I shout, that noise. He bites his
    nails while I pursue the yelp of an alarm
    to a smashed window. As our siren wails
    I grab my indecisive partner's arm
    hoping by now he feels protection has the edge on harm.

    He shrugs me off. No progress has been made
    since his long, non-committal day began.
    I scream It's over! Finished! – a tirade
    that would provoke a more conclusive man.

    He asks me why I think this sort of ending's better than

    Seasonal Dilemma

    Another Christmas compromise. Let's drink another toast.
    Once more we failed to dodge the things that put us out
    the most. To solve this timeless riddle I would crawl from coast to
    coast: Which is worse at Christmas, to visit or to host?

    To spend a week with relatives and listen to them boast,
    Try not to look too outraged when they make you eat nut
    roast Or have them drive their pram wheels over each new
    morning's post? Which is worse at Christmas, to visit or to host?

    Dickens, you let me down. You should have made
    Scrooge ask the ghost Which is worse at Christmas, to visit or to host?

    Second-hand Advice for a Friend

    I used to do workshops in schools quite a lot
    And some classes were good, although others were not,
    And when sessions went wrong, in no matter what way,
    There was one standard phrase every teacher would say.

    Each time couplets were questioned by gum-chewing
    thugs In reluctant time out from the dealing of drugs,
    Some poor teacher would utter the desperate plea:
    'Show Sophie Hannah how good you can be.'

    This phenomenon cannot be simply explained
    Since I don't think it's something they learned when they

    You do not have to say, for your PGCE,
    'Show Sophie Hannah how good you can be.'
    You do not have to say it to work or to live
    But compared with advice that I've heard teachers give
    Such as, 'Don't eat in classrooms' or 'Straighten your tie',
    I've arrived at the view that it ranks pretty high.

    Outside the school gates, in the world of grown men,
    It's a phrase I'm inclined to recite now and then.
    I don't see why I shouldn't extend its remit
    On the offchance it might be a nationwide hit.

    I've a friend who I reckon could use it. And how.
    We've had a nice day so let's not spoil it now.
    I am no kind of teacher, and yet I can see
    That you're not in the place where you clearly should be.

    No answering back – just return to the fold.
    We'll have none of your cheek and you'll do as you're
    told By the staff of Leeds Grammar, St Mark's and Garth Hill,
    All those manifestations of teacherly will

    Who join dozens of voices in dozens of schools
    That make grownups of children and wise men of fools.
    Stop behaving like someone who's out of his tree.
    Show Sophie Hannah how good you can be.

    Dark Mechanic Mills

    A car is a machine. It's not organic.
    It is a man-made thing that can be fixed,
    Maybe by you, as you are a mechanic
    Although I must admit that I have mixed
    Feelings about your skills in this connection.
    You shrug and say my engine sounds 'right rough'.
    Shouldn't you, then, proceed with an inspection?
    Looking like Magnus Mills is not enough.

    Resemblance to a Booker Prize contender
    Has a quaint charm but only goes so far.
    When servicing formed the entire agenda,
    When I had no real trouble with my car,
    Our whole relationship was based upon it,
    This likeness, but you can't go in a huff
    If I suggest you open up the bonnet.
    Looking like Magnus Mills is not enough.

    I lay all my suggestions on the table:
    Fuel pump or filter, alternator, clutch,
    The coil or the accelerator cable
    Or just plain yearning for the oily touch
    Of a soft rag in a mechanic's fingers.
    That's not your style at all. You merely grin.
    Is it your Booker confidence that lingers?
    I don't know why. You didn't even win.

    You laugh as if you can't see what the fuss is
    When I explain my car keeps cutting out.
    I know that Magnus Mills has driven buses;
    That's not the way I choose to get about.
    I'm sorry that it has to end so badly
    But I am up to here with being towed
    And I'd take a clone of Jeffrey Archer, gladly,
    If he could make my car move down the road.

    Martins Heron Heart

    No doctor cares enough
    to analyse the content of my veins,
    my blood that bears a rough
    resemblance to a Stagecoach South West Trains
    timetable. Start, please start,
    Wokingham Bracknell Martins Heron heart.

    Send a mechanic, quick,
    the best you have. Should your mechanic fail
    to get me going, stick
    me on a train to Egham, Sunningdale,
    Virginia Water, Staines.
    It's true; those Waterloo to Reading trains

    prove all your theories wrong –
    medicine, science. I am on the mend,
    doctor, thanks to a long
    list of the Sunday running times. Attend
    my bedside. Tick your chart.
    Wokingham Bracknell Martins Heron heart

    Tide to Land

    I know the rules and hear myself agree
    Not to invest beyond this one night stand.
    I know your pattern: in, out, like the sea.
    The sharp north wind must blow away the sand.

    Soon my supply will meet your last demand
    And you will have no further use for me.
    I will not swim against the tide to land.
    I know the rules and hear myself agree.

    I've kept a stash of hours, just two or three
    To smuggle off your coast like contraband.
    We will both manage (you more easily)
    Not to invest beyond this one night stand.

    To narrow-minded friends I will expand
    On cheap not being the same as duty-free.
    I'll say this was exactly what I planned.
    I know your pattern: in, out, like the sea.

    It's not as if we were designed to be
    Strolling along the beach front, hand in hand.
    Things change, of natural necessity.
    The sharp north wind must blow away the sand

    And every storm to rage, however grand,
    Will end in pain and shipwreck and debris
    And each time there's a voice I have to strand
    On a bare rock, hardened against its plea.
    I know the rules.

    The Shadow Tree

    In the lake, a reflected tree dangles
    while its counterpart squats on the land.
    Together they look, from some angles,
    like a hand growing out of a hand.
    Trunk to trunk, bark to water, they stand.

    One is real, that would be the contention,
    while the other, illusion or fake,
    is a trick of the light, an invention
    of the skin on the top of the lake.
    I am here for the shadow tree's sake,

    for its unannounced coming and going
    (no one plants, no one chops). I would give
    anything for a shadow tree, knowing,
    as its branches get caught in the sieve
    of the surface of water and live

    for a glance of the moon, moments only,
    that the dark fabrication I saw
    was a miracle, not like the lonely
    unexceptional lump on the shore,
    such a stickler for natural law

    with its sap, its botanical listing
    and its representation at Kew,
    its pedantic disciples, insisting
    that one cannot be both false and true.
    We are shadow trees. That's what we do.

    He is Now a Country Member

    He is now a country member.
    The subscription rate goes down.
    January to December,
    If you live or work in town

    You pay more. You come more often
    And the fee, therefore, is high.
    In a vain attempt to soften
    Last year's blow, he now drops by.

    Not a word since last September.
    He left town. We both know why.
    He says, 'I'm a country member.'
    'I remember,' I reply.

    Silk Librarian

    We have a silk librarian,
    One who behaves and looks
    Just like a real librarian
    When lending people books.
    We lost our first librarian
    Then others of her ilk.
    We need a good librarian
    And so we've gone for silk.

    A silk librarian endures.
    The paid and unpaid bills
    Are neatly filed in metal drawers.
    Eye-drops, inhalers, pills –
    Gone. We no longer house the cures
    For the imagined ills
    Of real librarians with flaws
    That far outweigh their skills.

    Real flowers used to be displayed.
    They died and made a mess.
    Genuine salaries were paid.
    Silk wages cost us less,
    Though, over time, the colours fade
    From eyes and hair and dress.
    Every two years or so, upgrade
    To maximise success.

    Feel free to disapprove, protest
    At what you never knew
    Until just now, and never guessed
    And cannot prove untrue.
    A sin too many, once confessed,
    Becomes a sin too few.
    While you deny that silk is best
    We cut the silk for you.

    God's Eleventh Rule

    I want to sit beside the pool all day,
    Swim now and then, read Peeping Tom, a novel
    By Howard Jacobson. You needn't pay
    To hire a car to drive me to a hovel
    Full of charred native art. Please can I stay
    Behind? I will if necessary grovel.
    I want to sit beside the pool all day,
    Swim now and then, read Peeping Tom, a novel.

    Pardon? You're worried I will find it boring?
    My days will be repetitive and flat?
    You think it would be oodles more alluring
    To see the chair where Mao Tse Tung once sat.
    Novels and pools are all I need for touring,
    My Peeping Tom, Nostromo after that.
    Pardon? You're worried I will find it boring.
    My days will be repetitive and flat.

    Okay, so you were right about Nostromo,
    But I've a right to stay in this hotel.
    Sienna: I refused to see il duomo.
    (Does that mean Mussolini? Who can tell?)
    In Spain I told them, 'Baño, bebo, como.'
    I shunned the site where Moorish warriors fell.
    Okay, so you were right about Nostromo
    But I've a right to stay in this hotel.

    I'm so alarmed, my voice becomes falsetto
    When you prescribe a trip round local slums.
    Would I drag you from Harvey Nicks to Netto?
    No I would not. Down, down go both my thumbs.
    I'm happy in this five-star rich man's ghetto
    Where teeth are, by and large, attached to gums.
    I'm so alarmed, my voice becomes falsetto
    When you prescribe a trip round local slums.

    It's not an English thing. No need to grapple
    With the strange ways we foreigners behave.
    My colleague would be thrilled to see your chapel,
    Turrets and frescos and your deepest cave,
    But as for me, I'd rather watch sun dapple
    The contours of a chlorinated wave.
    It's not an English thing. No need to grapple
    With the strange ways we foreigners behave.

    I want to spend all day beside the pool.
    I wish that this were needless repetition,
    But next to you, a steroid-guzzling mule,
    A hunger strike and the first Christian mission
    Look apathetic. God's eleventh rule:
    Thou shalt get sore feet at an exhibition.
    I want to spend all day beside the pool.
    I wish that this were needless repetition.

    Where to Look

    The leaves that this year brought
    next year won't bring again.
    If autumn has one thought
    it is not where? but when?

    Summer is on the ground
    long before winter's sting.
    The loss must be profound
    to make us hunt for spring.

    Eyes down, we find it dead,
    red powder at our feet
    but staring straight ahead
    we see its green wings beat,

    all future and no past,
    baffled as winter grieves.
    Next year, not this or last,
    is where to look for leaves.

    Brief Encounter

    I loved you and I left you at the station.
    I watched you on the platform and I waved,
    Taking in every scrap of information.
    Every last detail of your face, I saved,

    Thinking that when the engine started running
    And as the train proceeded down the track,
    You'd shrink, then disappear. But love is cunning:
    The station café faded into black,

    So did the world around you and beside you.
    You alone seemed to grow. In broken hearts
    Both distance and perspective are denied you.
    Love looks no smaller as the train departs.


Excerpted from First of the Last Chances by Sophie Hannah. Copyright © 2003 Sophie Hannah. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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